To appreciate Jeff Garlin’s sense of humor you just have to listen to him for a few minutes, during which time you are darn near guaranteed two snickers, several guffaws, and a belly laugh if you’re lucky. To appreciate his craft you have to watch his work develop. I saw Jeff Garlin: Uncomplicated in its second preview performance, when it was a sputtering two-hour shipwreck of an evening. Two weeks later, he and director Mick Napier have refined this seemingly aimless collection of vignettes about the pitfalls of show business into an efficient, engaging, and remarkably unified piece of theater. The secret lies in the show’s clever structure. For the first 20 minutes, Garlin sprints gracefully through a maze of intertwining stories about success (his last show in Chicago) and failure (the show’s subsequent run in San Francisco, as well as a handful of nightmare gigs from his days in stand-up comedy). After showing us his genius for weaving isolated stories together, he starts to intentionally unravel his creation, talking and joking with the audience, venturing off on a variety of hilarious tangents, continually “losing his place.” But as the structure dissolves, the stories become more and more complicated–Garlin grapples with nascent Hollywood success and a potential marriage. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does: the stories are thrown into higher relief, and Garlin’s structure proves flexible yet sound–just the right framework for his unique theatrical imagination. Remains Theatre, 1800 N. Clybourn, 335-9800. Through August 28: Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 7 and 9 PM. $10-$15.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kim Soren Larsen.